Physician On-Call Scheduling is Changing – What You Need to Know

Key Learnings:

  • Traditional physician on-call scheduling includes silos of static information
  • Clinician resource information is constantly changing, leaving schedules inaccurate 
  • Integrated on-call scheduling information is essential for clinical collaboration

What is physician on-call scheduling?

Physician on-call scheduling refers to the central scheduling solution that contains the consolidated schedules of all providers within the healthcare organization. Years ago, on-call scheduling systems were developed to improve upon previous methods like spreadsheets and email threads. The software provided organizations with one centralized location of information about the physicians available at any given time.

And they were successful.

But, as we all know, circumstances change, challenges evolve, and technology advances.

As time has passed, more is expected of scheduling systems, and today, traditional physician on-call scheduling systems are less and less effective. With budgets tightening, and vendor consolidation becoming an increasingly common organizational priority, organizations are being forced to reconsider their current solutions and the respective ROIs.

Why is on-call scheduling changing?

First, clinicians today are more mobile. Healthcare organizations have multiple locations, with clinicians performing different roles, at different geographic locations.

Secondly, on-call scheduling systems are often siloed by department. Having a disconnect between department schedules and organizational communication creates miscommunication across the entire organization.

And, this is one of the most common workflows we see: A schedule is created and the first-time it’s distributed – it’s accurate. But that schedule travels.

It gets shared outside of the department, often to areas of the organization without easy access to the scheduling system. And then the schedule is printed, posted or emailed.

Everyone is presumably in the know – until there’s a schedule change (and we all know how common schedule changes are). Then, the entire process needs to be repeated.

It’s not a reliable or sustainable solution.

How do schedules drive clinical communication?

Healthcare staff and providers use schedules to identify who is the appropriate on-call provider or specialist to contact for specific situations.

And, when printed schedules are used to reach providers on-call, miscommunication ensues.

Every physician knows the frustration of being paged or called because someone is working of an outdated schedule, and every care provider knows the frustration of reaching out to a physician they believe to be on-call, just to find the information is inaccurate. And, when you must then stop, backtrack, and figure out who is actually on-call and available to help… in the meantime, care delivery has been delayed.

Additionally, these all too common and easily avoidable occurrences contribute to clinician burnout and adverse patient outcomes.

In 2018, The Joint Commission provided an update to the 2015 report sharing that delays in care are one of the primary reasons for sentinel events. Further clarifying that delays in care are caused by communication failures and poor scheduling systems.

Rethinking physician on-call scheduling

Healthcare organizations need to change the way they view and prioritize physician on-call scheduling – to think about it in the context of why the schedule exists today, not why it was originally created.

It’s time for physician on-call scheduling to change to be the cornerstone of communication and collaboration systems.  This allows organizations to leverage role-based communication, and an integrated system that offers clinicians and staff easy access to who is on-call and how to reach them quickly.

Without having on-call scheduling embedded into these systems, physician on-call scheduling will remain a semi-static tool – and clinical workflows and outcomes will suffer because of it.


Learn how one health system used schedule-drive communication to improve outcomes. Read the case study.
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